Nutritionally speaking, sugar refers to simple carbohydrates that when digested, break into glucose. It is the body’s ideal energy source with the four most common forms including:
- Fructose, i.e. fruit sugar
- Sucrose, i.e. table sugar
- Lactose, i.e. dairy sugar
Distinguishing features of sugars include their source, flavour profile and level of processing. Here’s a quick guide that compares the main types of sugars:
Granulated White Sugar
White granulated sugar, otherwise known as table sugar, is 99.9% sucrose and made from processing and refining of sugarcane or beet. During this process, the moisture, minerals, and compounds that give sugars their colour are removed to create a by-product known as molasses.
Caster sugar has an almost identical composition to granulated sugar but with smaller crystals, so it dissolves quickly. This sugar is best used for baking, particularly meringues and light sponges.
Icing sugar is a form of white sugar that has been ground into a fine powder. It dissolves quickly and makes a smooth icing for baked goods.
Raw Cane Sugar (& Coffee Sugar Crystals)
Raw sugar, also called turbinado sugar, is made from cane juice and is formed if the final refining process is bypassed. Similar to white sugar, it is 99% sucrose but has a more golden colour and is a healthier alternative than table sugar. This is because it is less processed so retains some of the molasses and moisture from the sugarcane plant. Therefore, you are consuming slightly less sugar and calories per serving.
Brown sugar is refined white sugar with varying amounts of molasses added back into the sugar after processing. It contains 95% sucrose and 5% molasses, so when used in baking it provides a toffee flavour and moistness.
Coconut sugar is made from the sap of coconut trees and is less processed than other sugar varieties. It has a more natural brownish colour and is often perceived as a “healthier sugar alternative”, however is still high calorie.
Several artificial sugar substitutes also exist, such as Equal or Splenda. These are sugar free and non-caloric, however are made from chemical compounds and are not real foods. These sweeteners are also a lot sweeter than sugar which makes you crave more.
The bottom line is to make sure you always prioritise natural sugars, get familiar with food labels and alternative names for added sugars, and have no more than 6 teaspoons or 25g of added sugar daily. When you do use sugar, try to consume “healthier” varieties such as coconut sugar or honey, which have slightly higher nutritional value.